I noted earlier that it’s a bad argument to assert that because the Bible has a human element to it then it must also have errors because humans err. In the foreword to Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties* Kenneth S. Kantzer notes that “only if we take the ridiculous and self-contradictory position that error is essential to all human speaking and writing, can we insist that the true humanity of Scripture necessarily carries with it false statements.” I obviously agree. He says a bit later that “World-famous theologian, Karl Barth, for example, declares that the Bible shouts from the housetop that it is a human book and that an essential part of its humanity is to err. Others hold that the Bible is a book God inspired in order to give us religious truth but not precise facts of science and history.”
So let’s take Barth for example (and trust me, I plan to take him for example a lot since I dropped a hundred beans on his Church Dogmatics!)—In his discussion on Scripture as the Word of God he makes a number of observations concerning the historical conditioned-ness of Scripture and the humanity of its authors (to his credit preferring to speak of the ‘capacity for errors’ rather than the ‘errors’ of the biblical authors — see CD I/2, 508), saying:
Again, we must be careful not to be betrayed into taking sides into playing off the one biblical man against the other, into pronouncing that this one or that has “erred.” From what standpoint can we make any such pronouncement? For within certain limits and therefore relatively they are all vulnerable and therefore capable of error even in respect of religion and theology. In view of the actual constitution of the Old and New Testament this is something which we cannot possible deny if we are not to take away their humanity, if we are not to be guilty of Docetism. How can they be witnesses if this is not the case? But if it is, even from this angle we come up against the stumbling-block which cannot be avoided or can be avoided only in faith. (CD I/2, 509-10)
Barth’s point here is that the mere assertion that the Bible is free from error is akin to Docetism. The thought that the biblical writers could have written works without error is to “take away their humanity.” He says later:
If the prophets and apostles are not real and therefore fallible men, even in their office even when they speak and write of God’s revelation, then it is not a miracle that they speak the Word of God. But if it is not a miracle, how can if be the Word of God that they speak, how can their speaking, and our hearing of their human words, possess as the Word of God the character of revelation? To the bold postulate, that if their word is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion, that according to the scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word, and yet according to the same scriptural witness being justified and sanctified by grace alone, they have still spoken the Word of God in their fallible and erring human word. It is the fact that in the Bible we can take part in this real miracle, this miracle of the grace of God to sinners, and not the idle miracle of human words which were not really human words at all, which is the foundation of the dignity and authority of the Bible. (CD I/2, 529-30)
For Barth error is expected of humans—it’s built into their fallenness. From my point of view it’s simply a truism that humans can and do err but this doesn’t necessitate that they will or must err. More on this in my next post.
*I used to have a copy of this in my Pradis digital library but it was lost when my hard drive crashed so I am forced to rely on the reproduced online text (which means that I can’t cite page numbers — my apologies).